Should I make a pre-auction offer on a property?

A pre-auction offer means you can buy a property while skipping the auction, but you need to research prices carefully and make an offer that is worth the seller's time.

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When you’ve found the perfect property, the prospect of competing against other buyers at auction can be pretty intimidating. But if you make a pre-auction offer that the seller accepts, you can skip the auction completely. But when should you do this? In a crowded, competitive market, most sellers are better off going to auction. You need to make an offer high enough to make them cancel the auction but competitive enough that you don't pay too much.

Know why they might say yes

Auctions are an incredibly popular way to sell homes in Australia. According to realestate.com.au, 20% of homes from September 2014 to September 2015 sold via auction. In capital cities this number was even higher, with around 30% of Sydney and Melbourne homes selling at auction.

It’s easy to see why vendors might want to take their chances at auction. After all, there’s no upper limit to what one could receive at auction, and the competitive bidding environment can serve to push prices skyward.

icon of a hammerLikewise, there are plenty of reasons why a vendor might want to avoid auction. Recent auction results could make vendors a bit more wary about trying their chances. Auction clearance rates have been trending lower over recent weeks. According to CoreLogic, the combined capital city auction clearance rate for the week ending 24 September 2017 was 70.7%, down from 75.4% for the same week in 2016.

Auctions can be expensive endeavours. When taking into account marketing and the services of an auctioneer, Openagent.com.au estimates the expense of auctioning a $700,000 home could be up to $7,000. That’s a big gamble in a market where clearance rates are falling.

Time can be another factor that makes vendors rethink going to auction. Some vendors may have already found another property, and may be keen to sell their old property as quickly as possible. In a situation like this, a four-week marketing campaign for an auction can seem like an eternity.

If you understand some of the factors that could motivate vendors to sell prior to auction, you can make an informed assessment of the market and determine whether it’s likely vendors are looking to avoid auction.

Do the research

Before you make an offer on a property, make sure you know enough about its value to put yourself in serious contention.

Any property going to auction will have a rough idea, even before the campaign begins, of a price guide. While some vendors and agents can be a bit cagey on the question, you can usually get an idea of the suggested price if you ask directly.

But this is far from the only factor determining the price a property is likely to attract. Put in the time to research what price the property is likely to fetch at auction.

Where (and how) to find accurate property prices)

You can usually get a rough idea of the median price for similar properties by searching the property’s address on Domain or realestate.com.au. To get an even better idea, look at recent sales of similar properties. You’ll need to put some time in doing research to find truly comparable properties. Remember, not all two-bedroom houses are created equal, so pay attention to the condition, floor space, land space and amenities of the other sales in the area.

Show genuine interest

Demonstrate to the vendor and their agent that you’re interested in the property. You might want to attend several of the open inspections to begin to build a rapport with the agent and show you’re serious about the property.

When you do attend inspections, ask questions. Get as many specifics as you can about the house itself, and about the vendor, their goals and their expectations. Remember, the agent works for the vendor so they’re not likely to give away any sensitive information. However, you do want to demonstrate a genuine interest in understanding what the vendor is looking for and what offers they might be likely to consider.

You can also show you’re serious by taking some additional steps to research the property. Ask the agent for the contract of sale, and ask if there’s a building and pest inspection report you can purchase. Taking steps like this can set you apart from the rest of the crowd.

Make a pre-auction offer they can’t refuse

It may seem counterintuitive, but when you make a pre-auction offer you need to go in bold and aggressive. In most business negotiations, you might want to hold your cards close and hesitate to give too much away. This strategy is unlikely to work when you’re trying to convince a vendor to sell before auction.

Make the vendor an offer near the upper limit of what you’re willing to pay. Remember, you’re trying to convince them that it’s worth avoiding auction to take your offer. You’re not going to accomplish that with a lowball price.

In addition to offering an enticing price, try to offer enticing terms as well. You can offer a short settlement time, a bigger deposit or even waive the cooling-off period. You want to offer the vendor better terms than they can expect at auction.

Be prepared

If your offer is accepted, you need to be organised and ready to make good on it.

This means you’ll need to have your deposit cheque ready to deliver to the vendor as soon as your offer is accepted. It also means you’ll want to have finance in order for you to move to settlement in a reasonable timeframe. It’s worth getting home loan pre-approval before you make an offer. This means you'll need to compare your options to find the right home loan for your situation.

You also need to be ready to exchange contracts quickly. It could be worth having a solicitor look over the contract of sale before you put in your offer. Remember that until contracts are exchanged, there’s nothing stopping the vendor from entertaining other offers.

Be sure a pre-auction offer is the best strategy

The major caveat to all of the above is to be certain that making an offer prior to auction is a strategy you’re comfortable with. There’s every possibility that a pre-auction offer will see you paying more for a property than if you had gone to auction.

If your offer is rejected, you run the risk of merely adjusting the vendor’s price expectations upwards. This means the vendor and their agent can now tell any other potential buyers that they’ve had interest above the original price guide. Your offer now becomes the floor for everyone else.

If you do choose to make an offer prior to auction, you should do so because market conditions seem to favour buyers, and you think you can secure the property at a reasonable price without competing with others at auction. A pre-auction offer might not always be the right strategy, but if you know what you’re willing to pay and you want to take other buyers out of the running, it could be worth the risk.

If you a pre-auction offer doesn't work, here are some expert tips to give you the upper hand in the auction.

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